Strategies to Prevent Kids from Starting Tobacco Use

Children are very sensitive to the environment in which they live. What they see around them informs them about what is typical in their world, and they can pattern their actions on that information.

Tobacco-free strategies aim at making tobacco the exception — not the norm — in the environment. This includes ensuring that schools are tobacco free, changing the advertising and marketing environment so children are aware that tobacco is not cool, and raising tobacco prices so youth under the legal age are not tempted to buy them.

Many experts agree upon four primary strategies to protect kids from tobacco use.

Strategy #1: De-normalizing tobacco. Kids who smoke almost always are under the impression that “most people smoke.” In truth, the number of both kids and adults who smoke is falling.

Creating tobacco-free schools and other smoke-free environments, countering tobacco advertising messages, and increasing tobacco prices are important strategies to protect kids from the false idea that “most people smoke.”

But, the emergence of e-cigarettes challenges the strategy of de-normalizing tobacco. In addition, in spite of the fact that these products look like real cigarettes and are available in many kid-friendly, candy-like flavorings, many of them are not yet regulated as tobacco products.

Strategy #2: Countering industry advertising. Each year, $276.1 million – $525 a minute – is spent in Michigan to advertise tobacco products. This level of spending makes it very important that the public receives educational and motivational health messages to counteract tobacco messages that come from the Internet, merchandizing, and event sponsorships.

Strategy #3: Increasing tobacco prices. One of the best ways to get people to smoke less (or to quit altogether) is to increase the cost of cigarettes. Increasing the price of cigarettes can prevent potential users from starting to smoke and also can cause current smokers to cut back on the amount they smoke or to quit smoking entirely.

Strategy #4: Ensuring tobacco-free schools. Many environmental and behavioral factors play a role in determining whether or how young people use tobacco.

Schools can help children remain tobacco-free by exposing them to tobacco prevention education, adult role modeling of non-smoking behavior, and strong tobacco-free policies.

Progress has been made in recent years in attempts to bolster current state law by increasing the number of schools in K-12 that have stronger and more protective tobacco-free policies.

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